NOTE: this piece was originally published at YA Books Central, sometime last year.
A few years back, I found myself looking forward to a long stretch of sitting around and not doing much. I won’t get into the details (they’re dull), but it involved something that required my presence but not very much in the way of mental involvement (and no, I had not been sent to the corner for a time out). Normally, I know just what to do when stuck in one spot for any lengthy period of time: bring a book. One of the few nice things about air travel, in my opinion, is that for a few hours there’s almost nothing to do but read. The sitting around I had to do this time wasn’t just a matter of hours, though—this sitting session would be measured in weeks. I could have just grabbed the top half of my to-read list and been done with it, but instead I decided to try something I’d been meaning to do for years: read War and Peace. That’s right, Leo Tolstoy’s great, grand opus, chronicling Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and a bazillion other subjects: romance, redemption, spirituality, a philosophy of history—also, you know, war… and, um, peace. Really, I just wanted to be able to truthfully say I’d read this masterpiece of world literature, this daunting pinnacle of oh-so-many “greatest books of all time” lists. And who knew when I’d have an opportunity like this again—so I found an English translation and jumped on in.
And I loved it. When I was done, I felt inspired, exhilarated—and a little unnerved. No one needs me to tell them War and Peaceis an excellent book, but I still had to makemyself read it. Had I not been stuck with this long spell of sitting, I probably would never have even cracked it open, let alone made a serious of go of getting all the way through. There was just so muchof it. After that, I began making it a point to read a least one Ridiculously Long Book every year. Sometimes I’m a little hesitant to set out on another 1,000+ page adventure, but I’m always glad I did. Courtesy of my own reading list and the help of my buddies on Goodreads (hi guys!), here are a few more RLBs worth a look.
The Count of Monte Cristoby Alexandre Dumas.A normal man might give up after being framed for treason and left to rot in the dungeons of an island fortress, but not Edmond Dantès. Of course, Edmond has the good fortune to encounter a fellow prisoner who not only gives him a complete gentleman’s education, but also provides a means of a escape and the location of an immense fortune in treasure hidden—where else?—on the island of Monte Cristo. After reinventing himself as the titular Count, Dantès returns to exact sweet revenge on the scoundrels who betrayed him. At over 1,200 pages in some editions, The Count of Monte Cristocan stand with the thickest of RLBs, but hey—where else are you going to put all that swashbuckling? A thousand pages of revenge is a thousand pages well spent.
The Pillars of the Earthby Ken Follett. Set during a particularly chaotic period of English history in which conflict over the royal succession leads to widespread war, starvation, and generalized nastiness (so not all that different from Game of Thrones, but without the dragons), Follet’s novel chronicles the construction of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. Medieval architecture might not sound like the most exciting way to get through 800-ish pages, but there’s more to this story than dry facts about stonemasonry. Over the five decades it takes Kingsbridge Cathedral to grow from idea to reality, a sprawling saga plays out all around. There’s action. There’s intrigue. There’s triumph and betrayal and sheep. Plus a satisfying ending and a sequel (World Without End) if you’re looking for more.
Don Quixoteby Miguel de Cervantes.Even if you’ve never read the book, you’re probably at least a little familiar with the ingenious gentleman of La Mancha, Don Quixote. The image of a gangly knight charging after windmills atop his disheveled horse has become thoroughly iconic, referenced in cases of misguided idealism and when looking for excuses to use the word “quixotic”. But there’s much more to the story than the famous windmill scene. After having his brain addled by too many stories of gallant knighthood, Don Quixote comes to believe he is a knight himself, and despite being almost fifty years old and lacking any serious knightly qualities, he sets out in search of adventure. He finds it, too—well, misadventure mostly. Originally published in two parts, totaling roughly a thousand pages, Quixote’s wanderings are both funny and sad. Also a commentary on the powers and misuses of literature. In Part II, our hero actually meets people who’ve read about him in Part I, and they’re just as excited to join the adventure as he is to have them along—as, I’m sure, he’d be to have you.
Shōgun by James Clavell.Another one coming it at around 1,200 pages, this modern classic tells the story of John Blackthorne, an English seafarer who becomes embroiled in the upheaval surrounding the rise of a powerful Japanese feudal lord. Set during a time when European powers are vying for influence in the notoriously isolated society of medieval Japan, Shōgunis not only epic in just about every sense of the word, but is also an encyclopedic survey of Japanese history and culture (at least during the period depicted). And if you’ve already read Shōgunand can’t get enough, well, there are five more books in the series to keep you going.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixby J.K. Rowling. You probably don’t need anyone to tell you to pick up our favorite young wizard, but at some 900 pages, this most lengthy of all Harry’s adventures still deserves to be on the list. It’s the first book after life at Hogwarts takes a new, dark turn (yes, I know the book was published in 2003, but I’m still not giving away any spoilers), and frankly there are too many magical shenanigans afoot to fit into a book the size of, say, Chamber of Secrets. And honestly, what sort of person would ever complain about too much Harry?